NASA’s $27 billion budget gets more political than ever

Administrator Bill Nelson requests funds for future moon missions, space station research

ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA administrator Bill Nelson testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Tuesday about how much money the administration claims it needs for the 2024 fiscal year.

The space agency’s budget requests have continued to increase. NASA received about $25.5 billion last year, up from $24 billion the year before.

Next year’s request adds up to $27.2 billion, a 7.1% increase over last year.

House Republicans have already said they want to gut the entire federal budget by as much as 22%, which Nelson said would “devastate” NASA and Artemis.

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The congressional hearing Tuesday in front of the Senate appropriations committee was contentious, and as so many things are these days, political.

NASA’s first Artemis moon mission was so successful that President Joe Biden and Nelson have asked Congress for even more money next time to send astronauts around the moon on Artemis II.

Biden and Nelson want more than $8 billion just for the Artemis program, which would fund the next three moon missions.

The International Space Station is another NASA priority, asking for $4.5 billion for station research until it’s decommissioned in 2030.

And for NASA’s science—things like new telescopes, rovers and probes—the president and the administrator are asking for $8.3 billion.

But whether NASA will get it this time is in doubt because of partisan agendas over what is supposed to be a nonpartisan agency.

“We can’t deny NASA deals with these greenhouse gases,” Nelson told committee ranking member and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. “That’s what we have, the instruments up there taking measurements.”

Cruz wanted to know how much a NASA mandate requiring specifics on greenhouse gas emissions by contractors is costing the space agency. He also asked Nelson about NASA’s Diversity and Equal Opportunity program.

“Looking at this year’s budget request, I see things like $22 million for the quote, ‘Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity’ which has little to do with what you have called a space race between the free world and China,” Cruz said. “If we’re second at the Shackleton Crater, I highly doubt the Chinese Communist party will care much about how we have advanced an equity action plan.”

Nelson, a lifelong Democrat, found himself defending the president’s priorities for much of the first half of the Senate appropriations hearing.

“But also you and I have worked very hard to keep NASA out of partisan politics and I would encourage you energetically to continue that work because we have a Republican House of Representatives now,” Cruz told Nelson. “If NASA is seen as partisan, that is very bad for space and space exploration. So I would hope NASA would continue its tradition of staying out of those bounds.”

Nelson tried to reassure Cruz.

“I assure you NASA will be, and is if I’m around, not only bipartisan, but nonpartisan,” Nelson said. “You and I in this committee have a different approach to what is happening to the Earth’s climate. It so happens that NASA is in the middle of this. Why? Because all those assets up there. We design them, we build them, we launch them and we operate many of them.”

The Senate appropriations committee now has the next several weeks to make comments. All of the appropriating, and voting by Congress and signing by the president, must be done by Oct. 1 for NASA and the government to keep running.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.